In Acts 19:21-43 we see Demetrius, probably the leader of the guild of silversmiths in Ephesus, mounting a campaign to discredit Paul which ends in a riot. The issue at stake was the economic future of men who made their living from making silver items connected with the goddess Artemis (either miniature versions of the temple or statuettes of the goddess), but as we have seen earlier (Acts 16:19-21), it’s very rare that people are so candid when making their arguments. Demetrius was subtle enough to develop other arguments as to why the silversmiths needed to take action: namely the dangers that their trade would lose its good name, their temple its prestige and their goddess her divine majesty. (Acts 19:27) John Stott, quoting Neil, says that in this way ‘vested interests were disguised as local patriotism – in this case also under the cloak of religious zeal.’ (John Stott, ‘Acts’, P 309)
Mixed motives and mixed messages are the part of life that is difficult to untangle. Life often has complex issues to work through – the current situation, where governments have to balance the economic needs of their countries with their health needs, is one example of this – and when we add the capacity of people to deceive themselves (for the heart is deceitful above all things, as Jer 17:9 reminds us) into the mix, we see how easily peace is disturbed and disquiet arises.
C. S. Lewis commented on two extremes we can fall into regarding evil in ‘The Screwtape Letters’, saying, ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’ One thing we must remember, however, is that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Not everything which is proclaimed to us as good is actually good; the devil is a great proponent of the lie that the end justifies the means, and so we must be alive to the evil that is disguised as good and is persuasive in its apparent sincerity. This will often involve looking beneath the surface and looking for fruit, for as Jesus reminded us, ‘every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ (Matt 7:17-18) May God open our eyes, search our hearts and enable us to discern between the good and the best as we seek to follow Him.